Saturday Dyeing

Jacquard Indigo Kit

I spent all day Saturday dyeing yarn with indigo, cochineal, and quercitron (yellow oak bark).  Judy came out from Ventura with three skeins of white yarn, one of which was 100% washable merino, another was merino and nylon, and another of merino and silk.  Mine were all 100% wool, specifically the Crazy Eight yarn from Wool2Dye4. I gave Judy a skein of the Crazy Eight, so all told, we had 8 skeins of pure white wool for our projects.  I also had two skeins of Sea Wool I had dyed using cochineal, one lighter than  the other, and a skein of moorit Shetland which I had earlier dyed with quercitron.

Indigo Vat

Friday evening, I set out 15 g. of quercitron bark to soak overnight, as well as 10 g. of cochineal mixed 10 g. of tartaric acid. Saturday morning, once we got the first dye bath heating, we set up the indigo. After my earlier disaster with indigo, I decided to order a dye kit from Dharma Trading Company, in Berkeley, California. This is a very tidy little kit, well worth the small price – kind of like frozen vegetables in midwinter – a definitely good thing to have!  The only thing I needed to buy was a container with a lid – this little kit produces 4 gallons of intensely blue dye, and we certainly did not make a dent in it.  Putting the container – a commercial food storage unit – on a furniture dolly was a good thing to do, too, as that is a lot of weight to carry around.

Cochineal Skeins with Overdyed Skeins on Outside

We found out, very early, that the indigo in this vat is very strong. I dipped my two cochineal Sea Wool skeins in the vat once it was ready – and they turned deep blue violet after only a minute in the vat. Oops! I was aiming for lavender! You can see how dark the two cochineal skeins became, as well as the original shades of pink. We used this knowledge to good advantage later on, and diluted the strength of the indigo by taking a couple of cups and pouring it into water in another container. Much nicer! The lavender and greens Judy got were all done with a diluted indigo bath.

Judy's Lavender (Indigo Over Cochineal) and Green (Indigo Over Quercitron)

To get her lavenders and greens, Judy did two dye baths. The first was a purely yellow skein in the quercitron, and a purely pink skein in the cochineal. As her skeins had different fiber content in them, as well as had been treated to be washable, her colors were not as intense as the Crazy Eight yarn, which is a washable merino, but is made up of 4 2-ply strands plied together. Because of the silk in her yarn, all temperatures were carefully controlled not to exceed 180 F. – important to keep the luster of the silk, as well as to keep the yellow from drifting into drabber shades.

Indigo-Dyed Moorit Shetland

If you are unfamiliar with indigo dyeing, you might like to know that before you get the blue, it is green in the dye vat; the oxygen in the air creates the blue color. You can see that the large vat is green in color, with a bluish rim at the top. As a result, it is difficult to gauge how dark your indigo will become once exposed to the air. So, as I said, we diluted the indigo with more water. Then, to get the gradated yellow-into-green, and pink-into-lavender, Judy dipped only a part of her skein into the indigo, and slowly squeezed the dye into other areas of the skein once it was removed from the weaker solution. Doing this three or four times, she made some very nice space-dyed yarn.

For myself, I wanted to preserve most of my skeins as solid colors, and so chose to do one skein in pure quercitron, one in pure cochineal, and one in a medium indigo. My last white skein was tied off in the traditional flammegarn method. and dipped first in the cochineal, tied up some more, and then dipped in the indigo. The results were quite pleasing altogether. I was also quite pleased with the indigo-dyed moorit yarn – it took on a pleasantly greenish cast.

Left to Right: Tie-Dyed, Quercitron, Cochineal, Diluted Indigo

Judy's Indigo Overdyed Flammegarn

Saturday flew by! By and large, Judy and I were happy with our results. Judy had done a flammegarn in quercitron, cochineal, and indigo, but it was too pastel for her tastes. Rather frustrated, she dumped it into the undiluted indigo – and lost all here cochineal. However, the yarn came out really nice, despite that. In place of the yarn she didn’t like, she got one which is mulberry and teal, two of her favorite colors. The picture here is a bit too intense – the graduation between the purple and teal was far more subtle, with the teal being darker.

Our working concept was to use the lightest colors first, and then move to the darker ones. This meant yellow, then pink, then blue. I was not really pleased with the green we got using this method. Looking around, I see some people dye with indigo first, and then with a yellow overdye. I expect that the initial indigo has to be relatively pale to achieve middle greens. This is something I plan to do at a later date, and while greens are often readily available in other dye plants, the ones done with a combination of blue and yellow seem to be more vibrant. Color mixing is an art, and not knowing how something works best is frustrating, but at the same time so much fun. Since I am not a professional dyer, I am not too concerned about creating repeatable products, but I do like having control over my results a bit more. This is where a sense of adventure is important, as well as a willingness to try something. Theories often do not work with realities!

That said, here are the skeins, all hung up to dry a bit before getting dinner ready for the men.


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